an ordinary decent criminal



Michael Van Rooy



Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47



This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


An imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.


. Copyright © 2005 by Michael Van Rooy. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N. Y. 10010.



Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Van Rooy, Michael, 1968–

An ordinary decent criminal / Michael Van Rooy. — 1st U.S. ed.

       p. cm.

“A Thomas Dunne book.”

ISBN 978-0-312-60628-2

  1. Ex-convicts—Fiction. 2. Crime—Canada—Fiction. 3. Winnipeg (Man.)—Fiction. I. Title.

PR9199.4.V3656O73 2010




First published in Canada by Ravenstone, an imprint of Turnstone Press


First U.S. Edition: August 2010


10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

For Laura, who taught me about love



I had a gun I didn’t want to use. It was a small, heavy thing of blue-black metal overlaid with a rainbow patina and stuffed shit-full with fattened copper bombs. It was hidden away in the right-hand pocket of my paisley dressing gown with my fingers resting gently on its butt. There were three men in my new home, one behind me with empty hands and two in front; one of those with a cheap hunting knife and the other with a piece of iron rebar as long as my arm. As far as I could tell, though, I was the only one with a gun.

“My wife is upstairs and pregnant.”

All three men laughed nervously but didn’t move. I was about a hundred percent certain I knew what they were thinking, but I couldn’t afford mistakes because my wife and child were upstairs. The three had been caught breaking and entering and hadn’t decided what to do. They could run or they could stay, and in either case they could hurt me or mine. That gave them three possible actions to choose from and two were bad, and that forced my hand.

“But . . .”

The hair on my arms went up as I made a decision. All three were
wearing black woolen balaclavas with eye and mouth holes, and later I’d find out that the one behind me was also wearing a baseball hat that advertised Esso Gas.

“. . . I’ll give you all blow jobs if you’d like.”

Time slowed for me as the one with the rebar grunted with effort and swung, but I was already falling inside the arc of the blow and twisting as I went. The crack of the iron denting the table beside me was loud as I raised the gun and pulled the trigger. In the quiet house the gun was a thunderclap and it woke my wife and my son and my dog and my mouse.


The boy cursed shrilly as the bullet entered his belly to fragment against his pelvic bone and steal the strength from his arms and legs. Shards of copper and splinters of bone briefly shared the same velocity as they scythed through meat and muscle, but, meanwhile, I was rolling towards the middle of the room and switching the gun from right hand to left. The other two boys had started to move and I fired twice more while they were stunned by the noise of the first shot. In the dimly lit room, the shots were accompanied by jets of burning gas almost a foot long, a blinding light that drove the bullets through the air.

One boy catches the round in the left eye of his mask and the second is turning when his bullet catches him under an armpit and cracks his spine. Both are dying as they fall and by the time they land, their hearts have stopped and their brains no longer spark. The echoes of the shots are fading and I can hear my son crying, my wife swearing, my dog finally waking and barking, while my mouse rustles in its dry aquarium.

Claire, my wife, comes down the stairs with a bayonet off an old rifle, held in a fencer’s grip, and she is completely naked and gloriously full-breasted. She glares at the dim room and takes in the whole scene with a single glance and a narrowed mouth before moving
into the kitchen with the blade held parallel to the ground at waist height, ready to stab or slash. The dog follows her but he’s young and still confused by the loud noises and so he moves in a parody of solemn silence and virtue. I listen carefully to the silence for anything above the cries of my son, which have changed from terror to outrage at his inability to get anyone to bring him food.

“. . . Ehak . . .”

A cough comes from the first person I’d shot and I kneel. The skin under the mask is white and his breathing is erratic and slowing even as I watch.

“She’s not pregnant.”

The man, no, the boy, makes it sound accusing but I pay him no attention. The dog has come over and is sniffing the boy in friendship and curiosity, only to get pushed away with a feeble hand. I check to make sure the rebar is well out of reach and smile as though to a half-heard pleasantry.

Claire moves back through the room towards the front of the house, checking the windows as she goes for signs of entry. She does not look at the bodies, but moves around them to avoid the slowly spreading stains on the carpeted floor. The dog looks up at her and trots over to join the new game, which looks like much more fun than the one I was playing.

Upstairs, I find my son Fred, holding hard to the bars of his crib. He is just ten months old and teething a little as he sobs. I pick him up and he is calmed by my smell and tries to reach the gun in my hand. Instead, I give him a rattle shaped like a black and white Christmas tree and he is satisfied and quiets down. Back downstairs, the boy on the floor hasn’t moved much and I go over to watch while he dies.

“You should have taken the blow job.”

I feel kind of sorrowful and kind of relieved, and Fred reaches out with a chubby hand and touches my cheek, and so I kiss his fingers,
which makes him happy. I revel in that touch but I can hear sirens in the distance and my vision narrows until all I can see is the lame mask concealing the dead boy’s face and the dog who’s come back to sniff at the outstretched hand.


“Monty? Sam?”

Claire had come back into the room with the bayonet lowered and a dark flush fading slowly across both breasts and on her neck. Fredrick had fallen asleep in my arms and drooled peacefully on my left shoulder, and the dog had finally settled down. Claire flipped on the overhead lights and I could see the taped boxes stacked against the walls, each with a black number and letter combination drawn with a marker on the sides. She glanced at the bodies and exhaled through her nose; she’d done this kind of stuff before and hadn’t liked it any more then.

“There’s no one else here. What happened?”

Claire can tell when I lie, most of the time, anyway, and she put a little rawhide and steel into her voice to remind me of that.

“Would you like the truth or what we’re going to tell the cops?”

My voice cracked with residual strain and I resented it, it was unprofessional. She nodded like I’d already told her something important.

“Both, I think.”

“Good choice.”

I handed Fredrick over and he complained a bit but fell asleep again after Claire put her knife down on the table. Right beside the knife was the dent made by the rebar club.

“These three assholes broke in to rob us. I heard them and came down with the pistol to chase them out. They tried to kill me and I shot them.”

Claire’s eyes narrowed when I mentioned the pistol.

“With the pistol? What pistol? Certainly not a pistol you kept? Right? Hmmm? Not after you promised.”

Busted. I held up both hands.

“I kept one piece, just one. Not for work, I promise and I mean it. It was for self-defense. I’ll crucify myself later.”

I waited and she looked at me. She was a hair’s breadth from leaving me, I could feel it. We were together on certain conditions and if she thought I was lying about this, then she was gone.

“No more, Monty. Nothing at all, ever again. Am I clear? I’ll crucify you myself. Okay?”

The cold rage coming off her was palpable. I waved it off and went on.

“Between us, I gave ’em a chance and they didn’t take it. I’m very sorry it happened.”

The sirens were closer and I walked to the front of the house so I could see the street. Claire followed. Her mind was already working on more practical matters, like how to get away clean.

“Shouldn’t you wipe the gun?”


I glanced down at the snub-nosed gun and felt the cool, checkered walnut grips. The gun was a Smith and Wesson K Frame revolver, a Patrolman model built to handle .38 caliber special rounds, and it was pretty much untraceable. I’d done the work myself with acid and an emery wheel, grinding down the serial numbers on the outside and the set hidden inside until it was as clean as I could make it.

I hadn’t even stolen it in this province.

“No. Our story is that the bad guys brought the gun with them. I came down and we wrestled.”

I paced around and gestured with my hand.

“Wrestle, wrestle, wrestle. Then I took the piece away from them and had to shoot. You woke up. We don’t have a phone yet so we couldn’t call the cops.”

I thought about it and continued. “They’ll be here soon enough, anyway.”

There were curtains on the front window and I could see through the gap. I’d laughed when Claire had put them up first thing, but now I appreciated them. The sirens were louder, and a blue and white Crown Victoria sedan pulled up to disgorge two Winnipeg cops, a youngish blond man and a brown woman. She yanked the shotgun out of the holder built into the dashboard and carried it at port arms up the path, but that didn’t surprise me, it was that kind of neighborhood. I felt a little thrill. I hadn’t dealt with cops for a while and I wondered if these were any good.

“Sound good?”


Claire’s voice was clipped and I turned back towards the dead bodies. Already they were starting to settle as the air left the lungs and the piss and shit seeped out to mingle with the blood on the carpet. Fortunately, we were renting.

“Stall ’em a second, hon. A little panic/fear/rage would be appropriate.”

Fred started to cry when the dog began to bark, which he did as soon as the cops passed into the front yard. I put the pistol on the table and then pulled a plastic baggie with extra bullets from the dressing gown pocket. The unarmed man had fallen on his back, and I opened the front pocket on his black nylon windbreaker and dumped in the six lead and copper rounds. I shredded the baggie into a half-empty box of cutlery and then came back as the cops reached the porch.

“Police. Open up.”

They were doing it right, one on each side of the door and a long reach to knock and announce. Claire glanced at me and I nodded and opened the door. Before I could do anything, there was a thumb-wide shotgun barrel jammed into the hollow of my throat and a pale brown face staring down the receiver. The gun was crude, primitive, and lethal, and eminently capable of blowing my fucking head from my fucking neck so I slowly exhaled and made no movements at all.

“Police. Hands up, please. We have a report of shots.”

Her voice had a West Indian lilt that sounded like music and she smelled like cinnamon mixed half and half with gun oil. Slowly my hands went past my shoulders and she smiled and nodded. Her partner slipped past me with a Buck Rogers-type pistol in both hands, pointed at the ceiling.

“I want to call a lawyer. My name is Samuel Parker and this is my house, my family just moved in and we have no phone yet. The woman behind me is my wife and the baby is my son. Three men broke in with guns and knives to rob us and I killed them in self-defense. I want to call a lawyer.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the younger cop blush furiously when he saw Claire standing there naked. Reflexively he moved to holster his piece. “Jeez,” he said.

The woman with the shotgun made a gentle spitting sound like a chicken critiquing her young and her nose wrinkled in disapproval.

“No, Officer. You keep the gun out. You ignore the pretty naked lady. You check the house. Then you call for an ambulance. Ma’am? Please don’t move. This has to be done a certain way to avoid unpleasantness.”

The boy cop held onto his gun and started into the dining room, staying near the wall and out of the lady’s line of fire. Fred cried and the shotgun stayed steady at my throat as Claire spoke with a voice that cracked with the same cold rage. “Goddamn you. Take that gun off my husband, he didn’t do anything wrong. Go do your job.”

The bright eyes sighting along the shotgun didn’t even twitch and the cop’s cheerful voice dropped half an octave. “Be quiet, ma’am.”

The other officer finished checking the first floor and came into view out of the corner of my vision. “We got three deaders back there.”

He looked blank and started talking into the walkie-talkie on his belt. “We need two ambulances plus crime scene and homicide to a private home on Aikins. No sirens. Repeat: no sirens, one suspect, and needing crime scene and homicide. Reference officers Ramirez and Halley.”

Our dog Renfield, a Frankenstein-mixed mongrel, ambled up to sit pretty beside me with a battered Frisbee in his mouth.

“Sorry, boy, not now.”

The cop behind me grabbed my wrist and I felt the cold steel forcing my hand down to waist level before ratcheting tight, one wrist to the other. The cop with the shotgun didn’t do anything until I was pulled down to my knees and then she spoke. “The gun, Officer. The one on the table, bag it. You should have done that right away.”

The younger one had a whine in his voice as he answered and it grated on my nerves. “What about chain of evidence?”

The shotgun was now pointed at the floor and the cop’s finger was finally outside the trigger guard. Now I could focus past it to read “Ramirez” on the name tag.

“Chain of evidence don’t mean shit if the lady with the baby shoots us dead. We protect ourselves first.”

She gave me a sweet half-smile at odds with disinterested cop eyes.

“Sorry, sir. We have to do things in a certain way. I am quite sure you have done nothing wrong.”

Fred had finally stopped crying and I turned my head to see Claire standing about four feet away and staring at Ramirez as she asked, “What is your name?”

The cop smiled and showed beautiful teeth. They looked capped and were even, with a smudge of lipstick on one incisor. “Elena Ramirez, ma’am. That is a beautiful boy you have there.”

Claire didn’t say a word; she just stared with narrowed eyes and I recognized her rage, but then she smiled and chucked Fred under the chin. When he laughed, I relaxed a bit and allowed a smile as Ramirez glanced down at me with a slightly confused look and then back at Claire.

“Yes. His name is Fredrick.”

The cop shifted her grip on the shotgun and I knew what she was seeing. Here she was, talking politely with a man who had just killed three people and a naked woman who looked absolutely relaxed despite having three stiffs in the same room. She was probably wondering if she had missed something because all the little cop alarms were going off in her head. She stepped back and looked me over again, and I knew she was trying to place my face. Early thirties, slightly over six feet tall, with very pale skin and lots of old scars on his arms and hands. Pale gray or blue eyes and blond hair cut short. Normal enough, except I looked comfortable despite the handcuffs and the corpses and the cops. Cops know that only psychopaths, soldiers, and cops can kill and be comfortable with it, and she was probably trying to put me in the right category.

Others had tried, so I grinned at her, “Lots of luck.”

I said it out loud and Ramirez glanced at Claire and looked even more confused. My wife was mad, which made sense, but not scared, which didn’t. So Claire ended up filed away in the cop memory too, five foot nine, about a hundred and forty pounds, well built, sun-browned all over except for a narrow strip around belly and crotch. She was crowned with thick, unkempt, reddish-brown hair worn long, and had dark brown eyes. I wondered if the cop would recognize the untannable stretch marks brought on by pregnancy.

The other cop was back on the walkie-talkie, deciphering the Babel of static and code with ease and answering too low for me to hear.

Ramirez said, “Perhaps, ma’am, you might get dressed. I think you might distract the paramedics when they arrive. You are also certainly confusing Officer Halley.”

Claire allowed herself to be escorted upstairs and started a conversation about babies, while I waited in the doorway with a really dumb cop behind me with a pistol and a walkie-talkie. My hands weren’t used to being handcuffed anymore and they ached with tension and muscle memory until I consciously relaxed. I could see out the open door past the front yard to the tree-lined street and, although it was early spring and cold, neighbors were starting to cluster in small groups on the sidewalk. The police car still had its flashers on and the harsh light threw the whole block into sharp relief.

In time Claire and Ramirez came back down with Fred but she wasn’t allowed to talk to me, and soon after that, an ambulance showed with a half-dozen cop cars and a small panel truck. The first non-uniformed cop into the house was a big man with washed-out blue eyes in a cheap, gray, three-piece suit, carrying an unlit, expensive cigar. In the house I could hear Ramirez talking and then the big cop came back and stared at me while he lit the cigar with a wooden kitchen match. In front of us, the yard was filling up with cops in uniforms and paramedics in white smocks.

“Mister Parker?”

“Yes. I would like to call a lawyer.”

I said it as loud as I could without yelling and some of the people in the yard flinched but the big cop paid no attention.

“My name is Detective Enzio Walsh. You are under arrest. You have . . .”

In the background Claire yelled that I was innocent and I let a smile cross my face because for the first time in a long while, I knew where I stood.


Sergeant Enzio Walsh burst through the steel door that kept the world out of the little interrogation room on the sixth floor of Winnipeg’s Public Safety Building. The door smashed against the wall and a uniformed cop named Daniels jumped off his stool and came to attention. I sat there and yawned.


Walsh yelled and I nodded peacefully as his glance pinwheeled around. The room was three yards by three square, and two and a half yards high, with rivetted walls painted some colour between green and gray. It had a stool for the cop and a table built into the wall and a ledge upon which I could rest my sorry ass. Above the door was a camera mount with a security camera in a heavy-duty cage, but it hadn’t moved since I’d come into the room three hours ago. During that time, my only company had been Daniels, who’d tried to talk to me about anything at all. With no fucking luck ’cause momma taught me never to talk to cops.


I nodded again. I’d had my head down on the table, exhausted as
the adrenalin from the shooting leached slowly out of my system The handcuffs still cranked tight behind my back. Claire had tossed the cops a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and about an hour ago they’d let me put them on.


Walsh stood with a bundle of paper in one hand, his conservatively colored tie loose around his neck. His coat was open and I could see the checkered grip of an automatic pistol on his right hip with the butt towards the front. With a quick little gesture, he motioned Daniels out, grinning with an intensity that didn’t quite touch his eyes. When Daniels was gone, he shut the door and pulled the stool up across from me.


I yawned again and blinked as he went on.

“No, no, no, my lad.”

He cleared his throat and read from the sheet in front of him.

“Montgomery Uller Haaviko. Also known as Sheridan Potter, Igor Worley, and Gerry Timmins. Habitual offender from way back. Arrests for assault, arson, uttering threats, theft, breaking and entry, smuggling, possession of weapons, possession of prohibited weapons, possession of controlled substances, sale of controlled substances, and seven counts of attempted murder over the years. Convictions leading to eight years of prison out of the past ten. You got off easy before but I’ve got you now, you prick, and in my very own province. And for murder, of all things, you finally got it right after all that fucking effort.”

It had taken the cops longer than I’d figured to put my name to my face and prints.

“I would like to speak to a lawyer. It’s not illegal to change your name and I did it all legal and proper. Through the courts. And I’ve done my time, all of it, so I’m not on parole or nothing. I ain’t got no handle.”

A smile split my face.

“So. I would like to speak to a lawyer, I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again. Three men broke into my house and attacked, and I acted in self-defense with a reasonable amount of force to protect myself and my family.”

“A real ODC.”

I’d never heard the term. Finally, I asked, “ODC?”

He picked something pink from between his front teeth and examined it. A half-moon of bright blood appeared on his gums before he tongued it away.

“My Da used to be a prison guard . . .”


Walsh stopped.

“The term is ‘screw.’ ”

He patted my shoulder roughly.

“Prison guard. In Wormwood Scrubs, in London back in the seventies.”

He shuffled through the papers in his hand, examined one, and then shuffled it back.

“Back in the seventies they started to deal with all sorts, all mixed together. Paddy bomb tossers blowing up school kids. Raghead pedophiles. Nigger arsonists. Along with the regular kind of cons . . .”

He winked at me.

“The ones the screws called ODCs. Ordinary Decent Criminals.”

He shuffled the papers again and then again.

“Guys like you. Burglars. Thieves. Thugs.”

He picked one paper out and held it loosely between two fingers. “Just like you.”

Walsh pushed the paper across to me. “Sign this.”

The paper was blank and I looked it over as Walsh sat there with a pen in his left hand. His smile had finally reached his eyes and triumph glittered there until I spat a mouthful of spit onto the paper and started to laugh slowly. “Ha. Ha. Ha.”

“Dumb. Dumb fucking move.”

His voice was low and he kept smiling. He gathered the papers up and scraped the spit off onto the table edge, then slowly got to his feet and came around to my side of the table. I could have reached him with a kick but I never tried. The stallion design of the Colt was about six inches from the corner of my eye and it drew all my attention.

“Mister Haaviko, we can do this hard or soft, but it will get done.”

I rehearsed it. Lean back. Kick Walsh’s right knee into pudding with my left heel. Kneel and get the gun. Click the safety off (I tried to remember if Colt put their safeties on the left or the right side), twist sideways to aim the gun (hard to do sideways and behind your back but not impossible). Pull the trigger twice. (Cop mantra, “One to the belly, one to the head, makes a man dead.”) Find the keys to the handcuffs (they’re unmistakable, small, light, and with a short, hollow barrel), probably on Walsh’s key ring, open the lock (I’ve done it before blindfolded, in the dark, with a nose full of cocaine, while being shot at). Drop the cuffs. Shoot any cops who come in (I tried to remember how many rounds a Colt carried, six at minimum, up to nine for some of the later models). Get out of the building fast, hijack a car, take a hostage as needed, if needed. Drive away.

I didn’t do any of it.

Walsh’s suit coat was open and it swung heavily around his body. Like there was something in his right-hand pocket, maybe. So maybe the gun in his belt wasn’t his only piece. Maybe it wasn’t even loaded. Maybe he would let me grab the belt piece and pop me with the one in his pocket.

I looked at his right hand and saw that maybe it was trembling just a little. And that the tendons on the back of his hand were rigid, maybe with stress. And I remembered that most cop shops had rules requiring officers not to carry their guns into interview rooms. Maybe Winnipeg was an exception but that made lots of maybes and it was a bad cop looking down at me with contempt in his eyes.

“You are a piece of shit, just like all the rest, and you are not welcome in my town.”

I looked into his eyes and then I blinked and spoke softly. “Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot.”

He nodded in agreement and I went on, “That’s what Batman says. Too.”

His hand trembled and two bright spots appeared on his cheeks and then he went to the door and let two men in. Both were in uniform pants and old T-shirts stained gray at the armpits, and wore Sam Browne belts with empty holsters. They were in their fifties and beefy with beer muscle and one had a fouled anchor tattoo on his forearm.

“Gentlemen, Mister Haaviko here would like to do this the hard way.”

Both cops grinned and the one on the left removed his dental plate to show a gap of about four teeth in front. He dropped the plate in his empty belt holster and I took another breath.

“My name is Samuel Parker and I would like to speak with a lawyer.”

And they beat me. It lasted a long time, most of which I spent screaming.

That didn’t work so I tried crying and then puking. Then I pissed my pants but nothing worked. Sometimes, if you make a big mess, the beatings stop, but it didn’t work this time.

It just went on.

There are rules to taking a beating, jailhouse rules, tried and true. Rule one is to scream because people who inflict pain like to know you’re feeling it, so even if it doesn’t hurt, scream.

Rule two is, if you decide to fight, do it right away before weakening because a good session of torture will tire you right out. Rule three is, if you do fight back, then fight to kill.

Rule four is a corollary to rule two and also the golden rule of all bad guys everywhere, and that’s never kill a cop. You kill a cop, you even hurt a cop, and you’re dead. You may be walking but you’re still dead. Cops don’t let cop killers walk around breathing.

It’s a principle or something.

The cops did it right, nothing minor league about it at all. Open-hand blows hard to the top of the head and keep doing it and you get a concussion without bruises.

A phone book and an old-style billy club or the new-style tonfa riot stick, and take turns beating the book while someone holds it across the perp’s ribs. Do that for long enough and you shake someone’s insides loose.

Slap an open hand into someone’s kidneys and eventually you get blood in the urine; keep going and you can kill someone.

It went on until all three of us were covered in sweat and the room reeked of testosterone, piss, and vomit, and then Walsh came back into the room and showed the paper to me again, only now there was a neatly typed confession.

“What say? We can go on. We’re not tired.”

The panting of all of us filled the room with echoes and I spoke in a voice raw from screaming. “I want a lawyer.”

Walsh went rigid and the cop with the tattoo grabbed me and held my head immobile.

“Wait, wait.”

When I spoke the grip on me loosened a little. I knew it was crazy as soon as I opened my mouth. Then I yelled. “Give ME the KEYS, you fuzzy sock SUCKER.”

It was the punch line from an old joke, the edited dialogue from
The Usual Suspects,
and I’d seen it in prison the year before with a whole range of maybe eighty cons howling laughter until the screws had shut down the power and killed the water. The line didn’t go over well with the cops, though, and the one with the missing teeth pulled a couple of cotton swabs from a belt pouch along with a can of pepper spray. It was the cop stuff, not as strong as that sold to civilians. Citizens, however, are only supposed to use pepper spray on bears and dogs and those rules don’t apply to cops.

“This will hurt.”

It was a promise. Walsh braced his back against the door and he
watched as the swabs got sprayed with the clear solution and then brandished close enough to make my nose run and my eyes ache.

“Last chance.”

I didn’t do or say anything. The cop behind me pried open my eyelids one at a time and the other one swabbed the naked jelly and I went blind. About a second after that, the shock hit and everything was pulled out of my brain, sucked along by a scream that deafened even me.


“Mr. Haaviko? Can you hear me?”

I nodded to the invisible voice and looked out into fog.

There were shades of color there, and dim shapes, but the room looked neater than the one I’d been in. Did they move me or clean up the mess? How long had I been out? The figure across from me was thin and wearing dark clothes, including an overcoat. Not a cop, unless it was a detective. I was thirsty, my muscles ached and burned, and I was still handcuffed, but the clothes were new and clean and that was a plus.

When I spoke, my voice was ragged with pain. “It’s Parker, actually, I’ve given up Haaviko. Too many memories.”

The shape bobbed its head and I went on.

“I want to see a lawyer.”

“I am a lawyer. Your lawyer if you want me to be. My name is Lester Thompson and my office sent me.”

It took me a while to think that through. When it finally sank in, I wanted to cry but instead I asked a question. “Are you honest?”

It came out as a croak and Mr. Thompson thought for a while before answering, which I felt was a good sign. “Yes.”

He didn’t sound too sure and I smiled to myself. “Fine. You’re hired. Could you please get me a drink of water and get these handcuffs off? I can’t feel my hands.”

He nodded (I think) and went to the door, where I could hear him talking quietly to someone outside. After a few moments, someone came in with a Styrofoam cup of lukewarm water and the keys to the cuffs. After freeing me, he put his keys away and paused as if he was going to say something before walking out. My hands ached as I tried to retrieve some sensation beyond pain by massaging the swollen meat. It was only with difficulty that I avoided rubbing my eyes.

“Okay, Mr. Haaviko, um, Parker, there’s not a lot that I can do. The police have your confession and I’ve seen a copy of it. I don’t think the Crown will deal down past murder two but it could happen. You really shouldn’t have said anything.”

I ignored him and picked up the cup. The water went into my cupped hand and then I bathed each eye and let the water run onto the floor to avoid re-contaminating myself. Water on oleosporin hurts as the capsicum oils are reactivated but there was nothing else I could use. In a few moments they felt better and when I was done with that, I drank the spoonful I had saved and went back to manipulating the pinched and puckered flesh on my wrists.

“Sorry. Pepper spray. I could use more water or ye old Seattle Face Wash but neither seems to be available.”

“Mr. Parker!”

My lawyer was angry but I kept talking, squeaking away, as the pain spiked and swelled.

“Yep. Don’t know if the wash would work here, not in the eyes. It’s a handy little kit, first a bottle with a mixture of vegetable or mineral oil, water, and dish soap, followed by a rinse bottle of water and clean cloth. But it’s gotta be clean.”

“Are you listening, Mr. Parker? Do you understand what I’m saying?”

With my eyes relatively clear, I could see Thompson. He was a skinny man in his mid-twenties with thin lips and pale brown eyes. He was wearing a chocolate brown wool suit with a bright blue power tie and the clothes looked out of place and almost new. On the table in front of him was a thin manilla folder with my name printed on it and on the floor beside him was an expensive aluminum briefcase with a complicated combination lock. He looked excited and ran his fingers through already thinning brown-blond hair and tried not to smile. My stomach turned as I smelled some kind of musky, cheap cologne radiating off him.

“Yes, I heard. Murder two times three, maybe. The police have a confession, kind of. No Crown deals, probably. Is that about it?”

He moved abruptly and awkwardly like a nervous animal and drummed his fingers on the metal tabletop. “Yes.”

I carefully put my weight on my feet and fought more nausea to stretch and rotate my hips and then my shoulders. My whole body ached from the beating but I doubted there’d be any bruising. A professional hijacker I knew briefly in Millhaven Penitentiary had heard it called a “soft tissue workout,” cop and con slang for the new third degree.

“The confession isn’t signed, right?”

“No. But it really doesn’t need to be, there are witnesses who heard you admit that you murdered the three men after an argument.”

Bracing myself against the wall, I started doing isometrics, pushing muscles against tendons and stretching through the pain, beating it into submission. I realized I was wearing orange detention overalls and I briefly wondered where my clothes were and then I put that out of my mind. Vaguely I remembered Walsh playing with my hands and bagging the confession afterwards, which meant the cops would have fingerprints to show I’d read the damn thing if they needed that.

“Yeah. But a signature would’ve been nice. Now we’re going to have to work.”

“What are you talking about?”

Thompson spoke without passion, doodling on a pad of yellow paper with a black and silver Montblanc pen.

“I didn’t make any confession.”

He snorted. “I’ve heard that one before. Three witnesses, though, three statements, all cops, you a felon . . .”

I was offended and stretched some more as shooting pains spiked through my back and sides. I gagged on bile and water and finally spoke. “Ex-felon.”

“All right, an ex-felon. Who’s the judge going to believe?”

At that point I looked up and saw a video camera above the door. I grinned and covered with a cough before walking over to look at the unit from underneath. My lawyer cleared his throat as I checked out the thick-gauge wire basket around it and the armored cable feeding into the wall. He was staring at me with curiosity and something like fear when I came back.

“May I? Thanks.”

I took the pen from his hand and braced my wrist. Two steps and a hard thrust and I burst the lens amidst a shower of sparks and the smell of ozone. Thompson recoiled as I handed the pen back.

“Are you crazy? That pen was from my mother. That camera was off, it’s never turned on when there’s an interview.”

“Sure. The cops’ll be in right away so I’ll talk fast. I didn’t make the confession and I can prove it but if the cops find out how, then they’ll fix it.”

I was lying (a little) and praying (a lot) at the same time, which didn’t matter to Thompson, who was just quietly furious. He remained on his stool and shook his head while gathering his stuff together to leave. It was interesting to watch as tiny flakes of dandruff rained down onto his shoulders and the pad of paper in front of him.

“You’re dreaming. The cops aren’t watching, the camera’s standard equipment and it’s never turned on during interviews. They’d be breaking client/lawyer confidentiality rules.”

Walsh came in with his hand on the butt of his Colt. “Any problems?”

Thompson’s lips whitened and he looked at me through slitted eyes. I smiled and addressed myself to him. “All right, how’d they know the camera got broke unless it was on in the first place?”

“Any problems?” Walsh repeated himself, looking everywhere but at the camera.

Thompson stood up and exhaled through his nose. “Officer Walsh, do you have a room where I can do an interview? One without a camera?”

Walsh rolled his eyes. “Well, they all have cameras. It’s SOP these days. You should know that, Mr. Thompson. Sorry.”

He didn’t sound sorry.

I waited and watched the man but my adrenals didn’t kick in, I guessed they were empty. I wanted to kill Walsh with my bare hands or some kind of tool but I was tired and sore and old. And then the pain started again.

“What about the bathroom?” I asked.

“The bathroom . . . you’ve got to be kidding.”

“No. I’ve got to go.”

“Well, sure, I’ll take you. Least we can do.”

Thompson was livid now, his thin face pinched with rage. “Hasn’t my client been allowed to go to the bathroom yet?”

Walsh didn’t move his hand from the gun. “He was busy confessing. He got all caught up in unburdening his soul and time just flew.”

Thompson stepped a little closer to Walsh and his knuckles whitened around the pen.

“My client is also looking a little battered. That didn’t happen when he was in your custody, did it? That would be unfortunate for you.”

“That kind of shit just breaks my heart. Don’t worry, your client was treated like gold here. Pure gold.”

“Fine. After this I want to see whomever’s in charge.”

Walsh was acquiring an audience as cops in uniforms and plainclothes showed up along with clerks to peer in like spectators at a
zoo. The smells of fresh coffee and tobacco smoke filled the interrogation room and made my stomach knot and I realized I was real close to pissing my pants. Elena Ramirez, the cop from the house, was in the front row and watching blank-faced.

“That’d be Lieutenant Ross. He just got in. He’s reading Haaviko’s statement in his office. I’m sure he’d love to speak with you. Let me set it up.”

The pain was growing worse and my head was aching. My voice slurred when I spoke and my tongue felt fat and thick, like an un-inked stamp pad. “Can I please use the bathroom?”


Daniels stepped forward at Walsh’s gesture and started to usher me off to the left. My eyes were tearing and I wondered if I was going to throw up again. I stopped worrying when I realized there was probably nothing left in my stomach to throw up, even if I wanted to.

“Mr. Thompson, come with me, please,” I said.

I blinked back the tears and looked directly at Walsh.

“Please, I just don’t want to get beaten again.”

Everyone flinched and then slipped back to work and a twitch started under Walsh’s right eye, but he remained silent as Daniels led me and Thompson to the bathroom. We passed through a big room full of desks with glass-walled offices on two walls and interview rooms along the third. The fourth wall was covered in corkboard tiles holding notices and pictures and that held doors to the bathrooms.

Daniels looked at me impassively. “Leave the stall open.”

The cop leaned back against the sinks and watched me with his arms crossed while Thompson turned around to wash his face. I used one hand to brace myself while manipulating the soft, plastic zipper down the front of the overalls. The overalls were one piece and it was a practiced humiliation that made it necessary to remove your clothes all the way down to the ankles to use a toilet. I did it without thinking and pissed a weak, pain-filled arc.

I stared and puzzled out loud. “Red?”

The bowl filled as I watched but my brain didn’t register at first.

“Red means blood.”

It came out in a trickle, diluted with urine, and the pain spiked and I doubled over as Thompson and the cop rushed over.

“Oh shit.”

Suddenly the cop was trying to hold me up and then I heard Thompson dialing his cell phone and asking for an ambulance and then I passed out.


The hospital bed was a deeply comfortable nest of crisp white cotton and I was out, out, out.

The five milligrams of generic Valium the nurse had forced on me hadn’t been necessary and I tongued it out once she’d left the room, but I had to keep it in my mouth because of the lady cop across the room from me. They’d let Claire and Fred in to visit and my wife squeezed my right hand, as it was closest. Each hand was handcuffed to the bed frame and the contact of flesh to flesh made me smile. From her arms, Fred looked solemnly down.

“You want it?”

I’d told her about the pill in my cheek and she shook her head. The cop raised her eyes at my whisper but nothing happened and she went back to reading an old issue of
Guns and Ammo

“Keep it, just in case. You look like shit. Consider it your kryptonite crucifix.” That made me smile something weak and tenuous. It was a line stolen from late-night TV and pleasant because it was shared. She went on, “Vampires and Superman both.”

Claire’s eyes were alight with pleasure and twinkled with humour
but her mouth was grim and she held herself rigidly between me and the cop. She was spoiling for a fight and I couldn’t and wouldn’t argue with her.


The pill went into the top of my cheek, where it was dry and cool, and I could feel it nestled there, a bitter and metallic memento. My body ached with the memory of the drug, the sweet forgetfulness that lay therein and the surcease from the pain and the altered state it would bring. Claire squeezed my hand again and brought me quickly away from that line of thinking. I was intellectualizing the addiction and that was a bad sign.

She said, “You’re stronger than that.”

She was right and wrong at the same time. I was stronger than the pills with her and Fred there, but the pills were stronger than me if I was alone. I nodded anyway. “So you called the lawyer?”

Claire switched Fred to her left arm and snorted.

“It took a while. The cops didn’t let me go until past one and Ramirez called a cab, which got me to a hotel. I took the file case with your papers after the cops looked through it and phoned from the hotel. I reached your old lawyer in Calgary and he gave me a name here in town. He sounded happy to hear from you.”

I couldn’t nod, there was a monitoring tube up my nose and a brace across my neck, but I rolled my eyes. “I always paid on time.”

She shrugged and switched Fred to the other arm. “Yeah, he’s a vulture, but a good vulture.”


She shifted Fred again and a frown creased her forehead. “How we gonna afford the shyster?”

It was almost a whisper and I motioned her close. The cop shifted a little in her chair, but didn’t do anything. “Legal aid. It’s a good case, lots of publicity. The money will come from the province and so will the lawyer.”

She leaned back and her eyes narrowed at the sight of the restraints
on my wrists. “You’ve changed. I know that. Isn’t it obvious? Can’t all the cops and all the cons and all the rest see? You’ve gone straight.”

It was a plea, a demand, a complaint, and there was no answer I could make. She leaned down and kissed me gently but the effect was ruined when Fred tried to pull the tube out of my nose. She raised her head and patted my shoulder.

“They just don’t realize that I’ll pull your lungs out if you fuck up again. Oh, well. I’ll see you tomorrow, so behave. Tomorrow we’ll roast ’em. But for now, sleep.”

And I did, but it took a long time to forget about the pill slowly dissolving and numbing my whole mouth and reminding me of what I had been. It’s not like I ever really stopped being addicted, I just stopped doing the drugs.

Something pinched my foot gently through the sheet and I woke up slick with sweat and trembling with remembered pain. The room was dark and there were low snores coming from the cop’s chair.


Someone had drawn the curtain around the bed, shutting out all the lights except for the watch lights down low on the walls to stop people from tripping on obstacles.

“No, not Claire.”

The voice was unfamiliar and I adjusted my left hand into a striking surface before I remembered the handcuffs. Then I stopped and waited.

“Monty, my man. Remember me?”

I didn’t and he flipped on a penlight with a piece of electrician’s tape over the lens. The tape was pierced with a pinhole and I could see a vaguely familiar face in the silken thread of light.


On second thought, he was still no one I knew, and my heart drummed tightly. He waited for a second and then shut off the light, but his image floated there, a sharp-planed face, a Canadian mixture
of Scot and Cree with wide nostrils and a thin nose. He was wearing loose-fitting hospital greens and looked toned and lean.

I remembered what e.e. cummings said about Buffalo Bill: “Christ, he was a handsome man.” And I wondered if I was looking at my executioner.

“C’mon. You must remember. Teddy Stiles, the one and only.”

He took my hand gently in the dark and squeezed it.

“We were in Drumheller on the same range. ’Bout four years back. Ted Stiles. In for arm-ed robbery.”

He separated the first word into two parts and the fact he said “armed” told me a lot. Serious cons don’t say “armed robbery,” that’s for social workers. Serious cons assume the armed.

“No. Sorry.”

He sounded hurt. “You sure? I had a house with Benjamin Capito? Played blackjack with you a few times?”

“Sorry. Been in lots of jails with lots of guys.”

“Oh. Well.”

He thought about it and changed the subject. “How bad off are you?”

His tone was conversational, casual, and I matched it. “Two, maybe three days in here but I can walk or even run right now. Nothing permanent, bruised kidneys and general contusions, nothing broken.”

He pushed my legs over and settled in next to me with his knees resting on the rail around the bed. When he was comfortable, he lit up a cigarette.


The lady cop let out a massive snore from outside the curtain.

“What about the cop?” I asked

“Ropena, Rophena, Ropellis, shit. I can’t remember.”

He fished out his light again and turned it on to look at a brown vial half full of oblong white pills. “Aha. Rohypnol. Not just for rape anymore. She was dozing when I got here, you were all the way out. I just brought her some fresh coffee on my way by with a laundry
cart. I gotta remember that, no one looks at someone pushing a cart of dirty sheets. She’ll be out for five or six hours, depending on weight, and she’s a big heifer. Or is it sow, considering all things? She won’t remember much, either, which is handy.”

He shifted his weight and the bed creaked. “Got some left over from a badger game.”

I wasn’t tracking too well. Badger games were cons done with a girl who plays the hooker, a guy who plays the irate boyfriend/brother/father/husband, and the john who doesn’t know he’s even playing anything at all. Easy money in a resort town or working a convention. Rohypnol would make sure the john didn’t remember anything but what the girl wanted to tell him. Actually, it was a nice touch.